MOSCOW — A senior Russian official lashed out at the U.S. minutes before a meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday, calling recent American rhetoric “primitive and loutish.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the U.S’s position on Syria “remains a mystery” to Moscow, although he added that Russia expected to discuss the issue of no-fly zones in Syria at the talks.
Separately, Tillerson said talks with Lavrov represented “an important moment in the United States’ relationship with Russia.”
‘Our hand is pretty weak’ regarding Russia and Syria, analyst says 2:55
The Secretary of State said he hoped “to further clarify areas of sharp difference so we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing these differences might be.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not adopt Tillerson’s conciliatory tone, instead telling local media that the level of trust between the U.S. and Moscow had deteriorated further since Trump took office, according to Reuters.
On his way into the meeting with Tillerson, Lavrov said he believed the visit was timely as Russia saw what it called “troubling actions” last week in Syria, a reference to the U.S. bombing an air field in that country. American officials said the base had launched an alleged chemical weapons attack in north-western Syria which killed more than 80 civilians.
“We believe it fundamentally important not to let these actions happen again in the future,” Lavrov added.
Separately, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian newswires a meeting between Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin was not on the agenda as things stand but he did not rule it out.
“There is a certain possibility,” Peskov told state-run TASS agency. “You know the talks between the Russian foreign minister and the U.S. Secretary of State are currently underway, and if they later decide to report on the results of these talks to the head of state, we will let you know.”
In response to the US missile attack against al-Shayrat airbase – controlled by Assad regime- the so-called joint command center (Russia-Iran-Assad) besides other armed groups including the terrorist “Hezbollah” announced that the US attack has crossed “red lines” and “from now on, we will respond forcefully to any aggression and any crossing of the red lines.”
The statement added that: “America is fully aware of our ability to respond.”
Alright, what about the Israeli strikes in Syria against Assad-regime and “Hezbollah”, assassinating several leaders thereof there including Samir Qantar who was killed in an Israeli raid that targeted a residential building in Jaramana, a suburb in Damascus?
What about the Israeli defense minister’s threat to Damascus criminal and butcher Bashar Assad on March 19, warning from targeting the Israeli warplanes flying in the Syrian skies? “The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our airplanes, we will destroy all of them without thinking twice.”
Are the Israeli strikes and involvement in the Syrian territory as well as targeting “Hezbollah” and its leaders permissible, while the US attack is considered a red line?
Certainly, the statement of the so-called joint command center is mere talk and an attempt to save the face of criminal Assad regime, Iranians and “Hezbollah”. That was why Russians did not promote the statement in media and no official Russian authority – such as Kremlin- even wrote an article about it.
On the contrary, the statement issued after the phone call between the Russian president and his Iranian counterpart demanded carrying out an objective probe on the usage of chemical weapons in Idlib. These loose statements, including the statement of the so-called joint command force, are propaganda and an attempt to save one’s face.
Israel devastated – previously – “Hezbollah” in Lebanon and Iran did not defend it not even with one bullet. Gaza was set to fire during an Israeli aggression and neither Iran nor “Hezbollah” acted to rescue it – Assad regime did not respond to all these Israeli attacks against Lebanon and Gaza not even when the Israeli warplane flew over the presidential palace years before the Syrian revolution.
Iran, Hezbollah and Assad statements are worthless after the US strike as today we are facing a new reality. Concerning Russians, everyone will know the true stance of Moscow after the anticipated meeting of the US Secretary of State and his Russian counterpart.
Certainly, the US has various tools to harm Iran and Russia in Syria — Russians are aware of that, that’s why they are calm and they have accepted the latest US blow in Syria.
Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin’s mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor’s degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.
Spanish police have arrested a Russian programmer following US allegations of large-scale hacking.
Pyotr Levashov was held in Barcelona on Friday and is remanded in custody.
Spanish police said Mr Levashov controlled a botnet called Kelihos, hacking information and installing malicious software in hundreds of thousands of computers.
The arrest was part of a “complex inquiry carried out in collaboration with the FBI”, police said.
Mr Levashov is subject to a US international arrest warrant and a Spanish court will hear whether he can be extradited.
Much of his alleged activity involved ransomware – blocking a computer’s access to certain information and demanding a ransom for its release.
Mr Levashov’s wife Maria told Russian broadcaster RT that the arrest had been made in connection with allegations that Russians had hacked the US presidential election.
She said Spanish police had told her the arrest was in connection with “a virus which appears to have been created by my husband and is linked to [Donald] Trump’s victory”.
However, Agence France-Presse news agency quoted a source close to the matter in Washington as saying that Mr Levashov’s detention was “not tied to anything involving allegations of Russian interference with the US election”.
A US intelligence report released in January alleged that Vladimir Putin had tried to help Mr Trump to victory, allegations strongly denied the Russian president.
Mr Trump later commented that the outcome of the election had not been affected.
Officials in the Trump administration on Sunday demanded that Russia stop supporting the Syrian government or face a further deterioration in its relations with the United States.
Signaling the focus of talks that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to have in Moscow this week, officials said that Russia, in propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, bears at least partial responsibility for Wednesday’s chemical attack on villagers in Idlib province.
“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Although officials acknowledged that they have seen no evidence directly linking Russia to the attacks, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that Russia should be pressed to answer what it knew ahead of the chemical attack since it has positioned warplanes and air defense systems with associated troops in Syria since 2015.
“I think what we should do is ask Russia, how could it be, if you have advisers at that airfield, that you didn’t know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?” McMaster said on Fox News.
The timing of the comments, with Tillerson heading soon to Moscow, signaled the administration’s intent to pressure Russia to step away from Assad, who is supported by the Kremlin with military aid and diplomatic cover.
The fallout from the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, plus the U.S. missile strike that came in retaliation for it, adds strain to a rocky relationship that is at its lowest point in decades. A host of issues are responsible, topped by Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and Moscow’s support for separatists in Ukraine, and have prompted U.S. and European sanctions. These topics have now been overshadowed by last week’s missile strike.
The Russians had hoped that relations with the United States might improve under President Trump, who expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign. Tillerson’s nomination and confirmation as secretary of state also raised prospects. given the former ExxonMobil executive’s experience negotiating a major deal with Rosneft, the state-controlled oil giant.
But 11 weeks into Trump’s presidency, expectations have been substantially lowered.
“This is a big cold shower,” said Samuel Charap, a Russia analyst with the Rand Corp. “Even if behind closed doors they might engage on other issues in a more pragmatic manner, the public posture is going to be one of emphasizing how they disagree about [Syria]. Putin is not going to want to be seen as chummy with the U.S. secretary of state.”
On Sunday, both Tillerson and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, cast doubts on Assad’s legitimacy as Syria’s leader. Haley said that eventually the unrest in Syria cannot end if Assad remains in power.
“In no way do we see peace in that area with Russia covering up for Assad,” Haley said. “And in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government.”
Tillerson noted other instances when Syrian forces deployed chemical weapons, and other attacks on civilians involving barrel bombs and conventional weapons.
“I think the issue of how Bashar al-Assad’s leadership is sustained, or how he departs, is something that we’ll be working [on] with allies and others in the coalition,” said Tillerson, who after weeks of keeping a low profile was making his debut on the Sunday morning talk shows. “But I think with each of those actions, he really undermines his own legitimacy.”
Neither suggested that Assad’s demise was imminent.
“Once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria,” Tillerson said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” using an acronym to refer to the Islamic State militant group.
The U.S. missile strike in Syria carries the implicit threat of a larger U.S. role in the conflict. Tillerson said Sunday that the strike functioned as a warning to any country acting outside of international norms, in an apparent reference to North Korea.
“At least in the short run, it will further complicate efforts to improve the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship, which seemed to be Tillerson’s objective in going to Moscow,” said Jeffrey Mankoff, a Russia analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “In the longer term, the threat of further U.S. intervention is a card that the U.S. can play to get the Russians to tighten the screws on Assad — on both the chemical weapons and possibly on accepting a political deal with the opposition.”
Tillerson departed around dawn Sunday for Italy to attend a meeting of the G-7 nations, a bloc of industrialized democracies. He is due to arrive late Tuesday in Russia for his first visit as secretary of state.
He and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled to meet, but it is not known if the secretary of state will also speak with Putin, who personally bestowed the Order of Friendship on Tillerson in 2012.
Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said the Russians still hold out hope for a breakthrough, but that depends on whether Putin and Trump hit it off, not on anything Tillerson and Lavrov say.
“Things will only happen as a result of direct personal, sustained contact between Putin and Trump,” McFaul said. “That’s the way things work with Putin.”
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But closer ties with Russia also carry political risks for Trump. Should the Trump administration ease sanctions imposed over Ukraine, for instance, critics would label it payback for Russia’s pre-election hacks targeting Democrats.
Several analysts said that Assad has humiliated Putin by using chemical weapons despite Russia’s guarantee that Syria’s stockpiles would be whisked away. Moscow’s interest in getting sanctions eased is greater than its loyalty to Assad. And that could provide maneuvering room for Tillerson.
That appears to be Tillerson’s calculation, too.
“I do not believe that the Russians want to have worsening relationships with the U.S.,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But it’s going to take a lot of discussion and a lot of dialogue to better understand what is the relationship that Russia wishes to have with the U.S.”
Mike DeBonis and Abby Philip contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — As he confronted a series of international challenges from the Middle East to Asia last week, President Trump made certain that nothing was certain about his foreign policy. To the extent that a Trump Doctrine is emerging, it seems to be this: don’t get roped in by doctrine.
In a week in which he hosted foreign heads of state and launched a cruise missile strike against Syria’s government, Mr. Trump dispensed with his own dogma and forced other world leaders to re-examine their assumptions about how the United States will lead in this new era. He demonstrated a highly improvisational and situational approach that could inject a risky unpredictability into relations with potential antagonists, but also opened the door to a more traditional American engagement with the world that eases allies’ fears.
As a private citizen and candidate, Mr. Trump spent years arguing that Syria’s civil war was not America’s problem, that Russia should be a friend, and that China was an “enemy” whose leaders should not be invited to dinner. As president, Mr. Trump, in the space of just days, involved America more directly in the Syrian morass than ever before, opened a new acrimonious rift with Russia, and invited China’s leader for a largely convivial, let’s-get-along dinner at his Florida estate.
In the process, Mr. Trump upended domestic politics as well. He rejected the nationalist wing of his own White House, led by Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, who opposes entanglement in Middle East conflicts beyond fighting terrorism and favors punitive trade measures against Beijing. And Mr. Trump, by launching the strike on Russia’s ally Syria, undercut critics who have portrayed him as a Manchurian candidate doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin after the Kremlin intervened in last year’s election on his behalf.
Given his unpredictability, none of this means that Mr. Trump has pivoted permanently in any of these areas. The White House has prepared an executive order that the president may sign in coming days targeting countries like China that dump steel in the American market. And Mr. Trump is sending Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Tuesday to Moscow, where he will have the additional task of trying to smooth over the rancor of recent days, in addition to exploring whether Russia could be a real partner in battling the Islamic State in Syria.
Moreover, the missile strike, in response to a chemical weapons attack, was intended to be a limited, one-time operation, and the president seemed determined to quickly move on. After announcing the attack Thursday evening, he made no mention of it Friday during public appearances, nor on Saturday during his weekly address. As of Saturday morning, the Twitter-obssessed president had not even taunted President Bashar al-Assad of Syria online, although he did thank the American troops who carried out the missile strike.
“Our decisions,” Mr. Trump said in the Saturday address, “will be guided by our values and our goals — and we will reject the path of inflexible ideology that too often leads to unintended consequences.”
That concept, flexibility, seems key to understanding Mr. Trump. He hates to be boxed in, as he mused in the Rose Garden last week while contemplating the first new military operation of his presidency with geopolitical consequences.
“I like to think of myself as a very flexible person,” he told reporters. “I don’t have to have one specific way.” He made clear he cherished unpredictability. “I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing,” he said.
That flexibility was a hallmark of his rise in real estate, and if critics preferred the word erratic, it did not bother Mr. Trump — it has since worked well enough to vault him to the White House. But now that he is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful nation, leaders around the world are trying to detect a method to the man.
“There is no emerging doctrine for Trump foreign policy in a classical sense,” said Kathleen H. Hicks, a former Pentagon official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There are, however, clear emerging characteristics consistent with the attributes of the man himself: unpredictable, instinctual and undisciplined.”
On Syria, Mr. Trump had mocked President Barack Obama for setting a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and urged him not to launch a punitive strike against Syria after Mr. Assad crossed it in 2013. That attack, with a death toll of 1,400, dwarfed last week’s toll of 84. And just days before last week’s attack, Mr. Tillerson indicated that Washington would accept Mr. Assad’s remaining in power.
Indeed, critics, including Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, argued that Mr. Assad felt free to launch a chemical attack precisely because Mr. Trump’s administration had given him a green light. Russia, critics added, did not constrain Mr. Assad because it has had a blank check from an overly friendly Trump administration. And Mr. Trump’s efforts to bar Syrian refugees from the United States, they said, sent a signal that he did not care about them.
“President Trump seems not to have thought through any of this, or have any kind of broader strategy, but rather to have launched a military strike based on a sudden, emotional decision,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, wrote in an article for The Huffington Post on Saturday.
Mr. Assad is not the only leader testing Mr. Trump. North Korea has test-launched missile after missile in recent weeks, almost as if trying to get Mr. Trump’s attention. So far, he has been measured in his response, urging President Xi Jinping of China during his visit at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to do more to rein in North Korea. But national security aides have also prepared options for Mr. Trump if China does not take a more assertive stance, including reintroducing nuclear weapons in South Korea.
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Mr. Trump’s action in Syria was welcomed by many traditional American allies who had fretted over Mr. Obama’s reluctance to take a greater leadership role in the Middle East, and feared that Mr. Trump would withdraw even more. After the missile strike, Israeli news outlets were filled with headlines like “The Americans Are Back,” and European leaders expressed relief both that he took action and that he did not go too far.
“We have learned that Trump is not so isolationist as many Europeans feared he would be — he appears to care about victims of a gas attack in Syria,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform in London. “We have learned that he understands that U.S. influence had suffered from the perception — which grew under Obama — that it was a power weakened by its reluctance to use force.”
That touches on another animating factor as Mr. Trump deals with foreign challenges — doing the opposite of whatever Mr. Obama did. Mr. Trump’s first instinct after the Syrian chemical attack was to blame Mr. Obama for not enforcing his red line, never mind that Mr. Trump had urged him not to at the time. Even as he announced the missile strike on Thursday night, Mr. Trump asserted that his predecessor’s handling of Syria had “failed very dramatically.”
Intentionally or not, though, Mr. Trump adopted language similar to that used by Mr. Obama and many other presidents in defining American priorities. While in the past Mr. Trump said the United States did not have a national interest in Syria, last week he said instability there was “threatening the United States and its allies.”
He also said that “America stands for justice,” effectively espousing a responsibility to act in cases of human rights abuses, as other presidents have at times.
Until now, Mr. Trump has largely eschewed such language. Just three days earlier, he had hosted Egypt’s authoritarian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and made no public mention of the thousands of people the Cairo government has imprisoned in a political crackdown.
“What is striking to me is a subtle yet clear shift away from the rhetoric of pure American self-interest narrowly defined, as espoused by candidate Donald Trump,” said Robert Danin, a former Middle East negotiator who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations. “What has emerged is a new language of American leadership in the world that we have not heard before from President Trump.”
Mr. Grant and others noted that the strike, coming as Mr. Trump shared a meal with Mr. Xi, could resonate in Asia as well, leaving North Korea to wonder whether the president might resort to force to stop its development of ballistic missiles.
But Ms. Hicks said Mr. Trump’s flexibility — or unpredictability — was itself “extremely risky.” If other countries cannot accurately predict what an American president will do, she said, they may act precipitously, citing the example of China’s extending its maritime claims in the South China Sea.
“Imagine if Donald Trump then took exception in ways they didn’t anticipate and major wars ensued,” she said. “Bright lines, derived from clear interests and enforced well, are generally best, and I don’t think Donald Trump likes to be constrained by bright lines.”
The Trump administration on Friday defended its strikes against Syrian military targets overnight, while Russia and Syria slammed the attacks and warned they would provoke more terrorism and instability in the region.From the United Nations to Capitol Hill to the Pentagon, U.S. officials said the attacks were justified in targeting the Shayrat air base that was used to launch a chemical weapons attack that killed scores of men, women and children in Syria’s Idlib province Tuesday.
“It is in our vital national interest to prevent the use and spread of chemical weapons,” the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told the U.N. Security Council during a special meeting on the strikes. She added that she had warned the council on Wednesday that the United States might act alone.
“Assad did this because he thought he could get away with it,” Haley said of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “He thought he could get away with it because he knew Russia would have his back. That changed last night.”
But Russia condemned the strikes against its ally in Damascus and said it was suspending an agreement to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between U.S. and Russian aircraft operating over Syria.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said the risk of confrontation between warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition and Russia in the skies over Syria has “significantly increased” after President Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed more than 70 civilians.
U.S. military officials said they warned the Russians in advance that they were not the target of the missile attacks launched early Friday from the USS Ross and USS Porter, and that Russian forces did not attempt to use their advanced air-defense systems in Syria to stop the U.S. missiles.
The two countries have traded information about flights by a U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State and Russian planes operating in Syria in support of the Assad government, to avoid accidents and misunderstandings, an effort known as “deconfliction.” The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday it was suspending the pact effective at midnight, because it sees the U.S. strike “as a grave violation of the memorandum.”
U.S. military officials said they continued to communicate with the Russians before the deadline, including after the attack.
“There’s someone who is on the other end who is talking to us,” a senior U.S. military official said Friday.
But the Kremlin’s decision to suspend the 2015 memorandum of understanding on the air operations immediately ratcheted up tensions further, even as Russian officials hoped the strike against Assad’s forces would not further sour U.S.-Russian relations already in a deep chill.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to visit Moscow next week in what was to be an attempt to reset relations with Moscow and lay out U.S. positions on a variety of issues, including Ukraine and suspected attempts by Russia to meddle in the U.S. presidential election. Now, however, the prospects for the meeting have been overshadowed by the fallout from the strikes, which Russia’s U.N. envoy called an “illegitimate action by the United States.”
“The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said during the U.N. Security Council debate.
“The U.S. has often talked about the need to combat international terrorism,” Safronkov added, yet it attacked the Syrian air force, which he claimed is leading that fight in Syria.
“It’s not difficult to imagine how much the spirits of terrorists have been raised by this action from the United States,” he said.
And Syria’s representative, Deputy Ambassador Mounzer Mounzer, called the United States and its allies, Britain and France, “the three colonialists” who, he said, pursue hypocritical ends in the Middle East.
The Russian government and some critics in the United States have questioned whether it is clear that the Syrians launched chemical weapons, rather than the suspected nerve agent being dispersed by other means such as a conventional bomb hitting a chemical storage facility on the ground. But U.S. military officials said they have high confidence that they know what happened.
“We know the routes that the aircraft took, and we know these aircraft were overhead at the time of the attack,” one senior U.S. military official said of the chemical weapons strike Tuesday.
The Pentagon released images Friday that it said showed the blast site where the Syrian bomb carrying a chemical weapon, likely sarin, detonated on Tuesday. Military officials said the staining on the road around the blast site crater is indicative of a chemical weapons attack. It was launched about 6:50 a.m., and a Russian-made aircraft piloted either by Syrians or Russians carried out an airstrike later in the day on a nearby hospital where many of the victims were taken for treatment, military officials said.
Senior U.S. military officials said they are investigating whether the Russian military participated in any recent chemical weapons strikes against civilians in Syria. But the officials said they do not yet have any information suggesting that the Russians did so.
The Syrian regime has increasingly faced pressure from opposition forces and was in danger of losing control of Hama air base in northwestern Syria, the officials said. The installation is believed to be used as both a base for Syrian helicopters and as a manufacturing facility for barrel bombs.
On March 25, a chlorine attack was launched in Hama, and a second chemical weapons attack of an undisclosed kind of gas was launched March 30, one senior U.S. military official said. That escalated to the attack Tuesday, in which the Syrians launched their largest chemical weapons attack since 2013, he said.
“This escalatory pattern of using industrial chemicals, to using suspected chemical munitions, to verified chemical munitions, caused us obviously great concern about the direction this was going,” the official said.
In Congress, lawmakers called for a response to the chemical weapons attack that could include punitive measures against Russia, Assad’s chief sponsor in his war effort.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested Friday that he would look favorably on a proposal to step up sanctions against Russia, Iran and others who support the Assad regime’s war effort in Syria — a measure that passed in the House last year but was never taken up in the Senate.
Putin has been supplying Assad’s army with warplanes and other reinforcements that the United States believes have been used in attacks on Syrian civilians.
But McConnell deferred to the Trump administration as to whether those sanctions would be necessary — unless bipartisan support for such a move in the Senate is considerable.
“If they [the administration] feel they need additional sanctions, or we can come up with something that seems to enjoy bipartisan support, I’d be open to it,” McConnell said. “The Russians are not out friend.”
The U.S. military launched approximately 50 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield late on Thursday, in the first direct American assault on the government of President Bashar al-Assad since that country’s civil war began six years ago.The operation, which the Trump administration authorized in retaliation for a chemical attack killing scores of civilians this week, dramatically expands U.S. military involvement in Syria and exposes the United States to heightened risk of direct confrontation with Russia and Iran, both backing Assad in his attempt to crush his opposition.
The missiles were launched from two Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. They targeted an airbase called Shayrat in Homs province, which is the site from which the planes that conducted the chemical attack in Idlib are believed to have originated.
In comparison, the start of the Iraq war in 2003 saw the use of roughly 500 cruise missiles and 47 were fired at the opening of the anti-Islamic State campaign in Syria in 2014.
The attack may put hundreds of American troops now stationed in Syria in greater danger. They are advising local forces in advance of a major assault on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital.
Speaking from Palm Beach, Fla., Secretary of State Rex Tillerson placed the blame for a chemical attack that killed dozens of Syrian civilians squarely on the regime of the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad. (Reuters)
The decision to strike follows 48 hours of intense deliberations by U.S. officials, and represents a significant break with the previous administration’s reluctance to wade militarily into the Syrian civil war and shift any focus from the campaign against the Islamic State.
Senior White House officials met on the issue of Syria Wednesday evening in a session that lasted into early Thursday, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, have communicated repeatedly since Tuesday’s chemical attack, the officials said.
The U.S. Central Command has had plans for striking the Syrian government for years and currently has significant assets in the region, enabling a quick response once a decision was made.
While the Obama White House began operations against the Islamic State in 2014, it backed away from a planned assault on Syrian government sites a year earlier after a similar chemical attack on Syrian civilians.
Tuesday’s apparent nerve gas attack in northern Idlib, with its widely circulated images of lifeless children, appears to have galvanized President Trump and some of his top advisers to harden their position against the Syrian leader.
The assault adds new complexity to Syria’s prolonged conflict, which includes fighters battling the Syrian government and others focused on combatting the Islamic State, which despite over two years of American and allied attacks remains a potent force.
Within the administration, some officials urged immediate action against Assad, warning against what one described as “paralysis through analysis.” But others were concerned about second- and third-order effects, including the response of Russia, which also has installed sophisticated air-defense systems in Syria, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The Trump administration’s position on the strongman appears to have quickly shifted in the wake of the chemical attack, as senior officials voiced new criticism of the Syrian leader.
Earlier Thursday, Tillerson suggested that the United States and other nations would consider somehow removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, but he did not say how. Just a few days ago, the White House had said that removing Assad was not realistic with press secretary Sean Spicer saying it was necessary to accept the “political reality” in Syria.
“We are considering an appropriate response for this chemical weapons attack,” Tillerson said in Palm Beach, Fla., where Trump was meeting Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “It is a serious matter. It requires a serious response,” he said.
The summit with the Chinese leader will continue Friday, and some U.S. officials believe the strike will also serve as a warning of U.S. willingness to strike North Korea, if China does not act to curtail the nuclear ambitions of the government there.
It was not immediately clear whether Thursday’s assault marked the beginning of a broader campaign against the Assad government. While Thursday’s operation was the first intentional attack on Syrian government targets, the United States accidentally struck a group of Syrian soldiers in eastern Syria last year in what officials concluded was the result of human error.
The Obama administration had insisted that Assad could never remain in any postwar Syria, and it supported rebel groups that have tried unsuccessfully to oust him.
A senior State Department official said Tillerson spoke on the phone Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the chemical attack.
“We sought the Russian analysis or readout of what they thought had happened,” the official said.
It is unclear if the U.S. provided any warning to Russia about the attack on Assad’s military facilities.
The United States has a broad arsenal already in the region, including dozens of strike aircraft on the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier that is deployed to the Middle East and accompanied by guided-missile destroyers and cruisers that can also launch Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Additionally, an amphibious naval force in the region includes the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit with Harrier jets and Cobra gunships. The Pentagon also has scores of aircraft in the region flying operations every day against the Islamic State group, including from Incirlik air base to the north in Turkey.
The attack appears to have involved only missiles. U.S. fighter planes, if used, would have had to contend with a modest web of Syrian air defenses and potentially more advanced types of surface-to-air missiles provided by Russia.
One of Assad’s more prevalent systems, the S-200, was used to target Israeli jets last month, but missiles were intercepted by Israeli defense systems. The S-200 has a range of roughly 186 miles, according to U.S. military documents, and can hit targets flying at altitudes of around 130,000 feet.
Russian S-300 and S-400 missiles, located primarily around Khmeimim air base in western Syria, have a shorter range than the S-200, but have more-advanced radar systems and fly considerably faster than their older counterparts used by Syrian forces. The S-300 has a range of roughly 90 miles and could also be used to target incoming U.S. cruise missiles.
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In a joint statement, Sens. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the operation “sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs.”
They also called on the administration to take Assad’s air force out of the fight and follow “through with a new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria.”
David Nakamura in Palm Beach, Fla., and Anne Gearan, Carol Morello and David Weigel in Washington contributed to this report.
The attack has killed at least 86 people, including 26 children, CNN reports. Countries including the U.S., the U.K. and Turkey have linked the attack to Assad’s forces. Russia has repeatedly supported the Assad regime, and did so again in the aftermath of the latest deaths, suggesting the deaths had been caused by a Syrian strike hitting a rebel stockpile of chemical weapons.
Trump, whose administration had previously signaled that removing Assad was not a priority, said Wednesday that the attack had caused him to change his mind about the Syrian President. He added that the use of chemical weapons was “heinous” and “crossed a lot of lines”.
But Assad had previously been suspected of using chemical weapons, and Trump did not offer any clarity on what a revised U.S. strategy in dealing with the Syria strongman would look like. So Russia posted the question on Thursday:
“Russia’s approach to Assad is clear,” Maria Zakharova, a Russian ministry spokeswoman, told CNN. “He is the legal president of an independent state. What is the U.S. approach?”
A protester holds up a sign showing Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing lipstick during a protest against Russian anti-gay laws in 2013. A similar image has been declared “Internet extremism.” (Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Russia has banned a picture depicting President Vladimir Putin as a potentially gay clown.
Russian news outlets are having trouble reporting exactly which image of the Internet’s many Putin-gay-clown memes is now illegal to share. Because, you know, it’s been banned.
But the picture was described last week on the Russian government’s list of things that constitute “extremism.”
Item 4071: a picture of a Putin-like person “with eyes and lips made up,” captioned with an implicit anti-gay slur, implying “the supposed nonstandard sexual orientation of the president of the Russian Federation.”
The Moscow Times thinks it probably looks like this:
The Kremlin has also become fairly adept at controlling what people say about each other on the Internet.
Russia passed its first “Internet extremism” laws in 2013, according to the Moscow Times — a year after Putin returned to the presidency and began restricting civil rights.
A year later, the paper reported, Putin signed a law imposing prison sentences for people who give so much as thumbs-up to a forbidden online post. Those include an article about a theoretical coup, which landed a philosophy professor in detention.
In 2015, Russian authorities began shutting down websites of Putin critics, and restricting nearly all anonymous blogs, The Washington Post reported. And Russia’s Internet censor has long allowed public figures to file court complaints if they run across a meme that misrepresents their “personality.” Like this one, maybe.
Last year, United Press International and other outlets reported on a single mother sentenced to community service for reposting a cartoon of Putin looking at a map with a knife in his hand. And a former naval captain from Rostov who reposted an antiwar report about Ukraine got a two-year suspended sentence and one year of probation for inciting hatred and animosity.
The Post’s Moscow bureau chief, David Filipov, recorded cellphone videos of the atmosphere in Russia’s capital on March 26 as tens of thousands of protesters rally against corruption. (David Filipov, The Washington Post)
The saga of the banned Putin clown actually began years ago, when a man posted a slew of offensive images to a Russian Facebook clone.
They included openly racist and anti-immigrant posts, according to Radio Free Europe. The man was convicted last year, his social media account was shut down, and he was placed in psychiatric care.
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truthtroubles.wordpress.com/ Just an average man who tries to do his best at being the kind of person the Bible tells us we are all suppose to be. Not perfect, never have been, don't expect anyone else to be perfect either. Always try to be very easy going type of a person if allowed to be.
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“I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.”~ Ronald Reagan.